The following fact may shock you.
But in 2005, I turned vegetarian for a short time.
A month actually. And, you know, the really shocking part is that I rather enjoyed it. I lost weight, I felt healthier and more energetic…
I might have lasted even longer were it not for a horribly complicated breakup and the sight of Alton Brown smoking a pork shoulder in a couple of flowerpots.
When I look back on that summer, I realize that what I missed wasn’t meat as a stand-alone food choice, burgers, chicken breasts, pork chops… what I missed was meat as an ingredient. The thick fragrant broth, the savory bits of a stir-fry hat balance out the crispness of the veggies, and, yes, the gooey rendered fat that made everything else taste more unctuous and satisfying.
Case in point is the following soup. The first time I made a barley soup was late into my Magic Month, but I used a vegetable stock and, of course, omitted the bacon. It was obviously disappointing.
A shame, really, because I like barley a lot. It has this way of thickening a broth without overwhelming it, and it adds a subtle grainy fragrance that I can’t get from anything else.
Spellcheck note: “grainy” was “granny” for a long time. That is not the fragrance I am talking about.
Okay, barley for soup requires special handling. The stuff absorbs at least three times its volume of liquid, so a undercooked barley inserted into a soup will pretty much turn your soup into a patty. Barley also takes a while to cook.
I tend to solve both problems via a quick par-cook. The barley will still absorb SOME of the liquid, and thus thicken the soup a little bit, but you won’t have a soggy casserole on your hands the next morning.
The other thing I do is make sure to cook the barley in with the rendered fat before adding the broth. It gave it a rich, roasted flavor which I enjoyed.
Aside from that, this recipe pretty much writes itself. You can use bacon… you can use salt pork, or, if you are me, you can use both.
Barley and Pork Product Soup
1/2 cup uncooked pearl barley
2oz salt pork, diced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 big carrot, chopped
2 ribs of celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic minced
5 cups chicken broth
3 strips cooked bacon, chopped
salt and pepper to taste (but you won’t need much salt, trust me)
First, par-cook the barley in 3 cups of boiling water for about fifteen minutes. Drain, rinse, and set aside.
Render the salt pork in your large soup vessel, cooking on medium-low heat until the solids have yielded all their fat. Remove the solids. You may add them later to the soup if you wish, or, just eat them as a snack if you must.
Place the vegetables and the garlic in the pot, and cook until translucent.
Add the barley, and cook on medium heat, constantly stirring, for five minutes, or until it smells very nutty.
Add the broth, bring to a boil, and simmer for 20 minutes. Note the broth might look a little thin, but as it cools, the barley will absorb some of the liquid.
Add the bacon.
Cool and serve.